The latest trailer for Final Fantasy 7 Remake is, to anyone's knowledge, the full introduction for the game. It's a five-minute show that contains a brilliant re-construction of Final Fantasy 7's classic pull-away shot of Midgar. But the first half of the trailer contains something unexpected: A portrayal of what life was like just as Shinra began to unfold its wings over the city.
The visual history presented in the video is fascinating for Final Fantasy 7 nerds [slowly raises hand], but watching the trailer also raises questions about Shinra I never considered when I played Final Fantasy 7 vanilla in 1997. Final Fantasy 7 Remake's visual upgrade makes it easier than ever to observe how Midgar's expansion poisons the planet. It also makes it unsettlingly easy to spot the parallels between Cloud's sickened world and our own.
Square Enix dropped the new trailer/intro movie earlier today. In the first two minutes, we see kids zip by on bikes on their way to Midgar's iconic Sector 6 park. As they ride, they dodge and weave around heavy construction, at least some of which is related to the Number 5 Mako reactor. Given the kids' amazed reaction to the reactor firing up as the sun sets, the life-sucking device is likely Shinra's newest edition to the ever-expanding Midgar.
After watching the new trailer, I wonder if Shinra built Midgar from the ground-up, or if it assimilated an established town after it conquered the world. There's certainly a juxtaposition of old and new in the trailer: The children we see in the trailer are wearing clothes that are quite old-fashioned (compared to the anime get-up Cloud wears, I mean), and their bikes look like something from 1960's Earth. The roads they ride on are clearly well-driven, but it's also easy to spot the perpetual construction surrounding their playground. Aside from the slick new Mako reactor that activates mid-trailer, we also see new steel buildings bristling around old cafes and stores. There are tall cranes building pillars—an ominous sign the infamous Midgar Plate is well under construction. The kids' playground is touched by the sun, but how long will that last?
Speaking of ominous signs, the trailer is teeming with them. In the opening seconds, a ratty-looking hawk flies over a desolate landscape that's already devoid of life, even though the planet's only experienced a taste of the damage Midgar's Mako reactions will inflict in the coming years. A starving dog roots around trash cans for scraps, and a small patch of greenery crumbles as cars roar by it. Midgar is thriving, but only because everything else is dying.
I think the most troubling thing about Final Fantasy 7 Remake's opening is it's no longer possible to distance myself from one of the Midgar citizens performing their day-to-day routine while everything that's wild wilts around them. When Final Fantasy 7 first came out in 1997, its message about saving the environment was almost twee. The '90s were a time when screeds against pollution and wasteful living was mostly delivered through kids' cartoons like Captain Planet and The Smoggies. I was in my teens through most of the '90s, and therefore way too cool for that nonsense. Thus, Final Fantasy 7's message initially bounced off me like all those school lectures about recycling and turning off the lights when you're not in a room.
I'm no longer a teenager, and we're long past fooling ourselves into believing we can save the planet if we recycle our pop cans. Moreover, Final Fantasy 7 Remake isn't built out of jagged polygons and snatches of cutscenes that run at 15 FPS; it's clearly capable of showing us a world where human excess and hubris is poison. Maybe the citizens going about their lives notice Midgar is gradually turning beige and dusty. Maybe they don't. Either way, it's irrelevant. They have to pay the bills, same as us. They'd rather not think about the environmental cost of flicking on a light switch, same as us. Only Shinra can engineer Midgar so that it exists more harmoniously with the planet, and they're not about to.
We can already see how abusing our planet has an adverse effect on our quality of life via floods and wildfires, but we don't know what'll happen to us when everything comes to a head. We know what happens to Midgar, however. We know the skies continue to darken, the steel girders continue to sprawl like webbing, and many of the people who thrive in the Midgar of the past slide into poverty as Shinra abandons the slums. And then things get even worse.
On one hand, it feels silly to declare a video game about a sad boy with spiky hair has a chilling message about the very bad road we're headed down. On the other hand, when someone—anyone—holds up a mirror, it's impossible not to observe yourself in it.